The Ngäbe are an indigenous community spread out across both the central mountains and coastal archipelagos of Northern Panama. Broadly speaking, not much is written or known about the Ngäbere outside of Panama. Tourists pay to visit “authentic Ngäbe villages” to buy small crafts and take pictures with smiling children wearing brightly-colored dresses. The experience paints the picture of a homogeneous society frozen in time.
While there are elements of Ngäbere culture that continue to celebrate tradition, much of the community has progressed in step with the rest of the Panama. In a single convenience store one may find a young girl in traditional dress listening to the latest reggaeton hit on a smart phone. Some expats or other well-meaning outsiders worry that the Ngäbe are losing their culture to modern trends. However, communities paint a different picture of resilience despite the coming and going of trends and tourists. As one community leader told me, “We lived here many years before you arrived, without you.”
Photographs in “Before You” aim to show the dichotomy of the Ngäbe experience. Youth and elders, tradition and the 21st century.